Police in Australia have launched a new strike force to identify and charge “as many people as possible” in relation to Saturday’s freedom rally.
According to Nine News, police are trawling through hours of footage from the protest in an effort to identify and punish individuals who “rebelled against the restrictions.”
Officers have already charged 57 people and issued more than 90 infringement notices, many to protesters for not wearing masks and for travelling outside their local government area.
The heavy-handed reaction stands in stark contrast to the police response to last year’s Black Lives Matter protests which attracted tens of thousands of people.
In June 2020, ABC News reported that Australians gathered in tens of thousands at protests in Australian capital cities and regional centres to support the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd in the United States.
The ABC said:
Rallies kicked off in Brisbane and Adelaide, along with some regional centres.
Big crowds also gathered later Saturday afternoon for protests in Melbourne and Sydney — after the New South Wales Court of Appeals ruled in favour of a last-ditch attempt to lawfully authorise a Sydney protest.
The last-minute decision meant those marching in Sydney were immune from prosecution for breaching public health orders.
At the time, NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Mick Willing said the rally only saw three arrests among the 20,000 protesters in Sydney.
“I have spoken with commanders who have said they are pleased that all their protests were essentially peaceful.”
The Assistant Commissioner went on to say: “There were some concerns raised by officers on the ground about physical distancing, and while some people were spoken to, no formal police action was required.”
In Melbourne, police said they were “generally pleased” with the behaviour of those who attended the “unlawful” Black Lives Matter protest.
The ABC’s report says as of 5:00pm, there had been no arrests despite the protest being held in “breach of the Chief Health Officer’s direction.”
Victoria Police have long been accused of a double-standard approach when it comes to policing protests.
In Queensland, Police estimated that 10,000 Black Lives Matter protesters gathered in Brisbane’s CBD, while Adelaide saw thousands turn out to support the cause.
South Australia Police Commissioner Grant Stevens, reportedly granted an exemption from coronavirus restrictions for the Black Lives Matter rally to go ahead.
Minister for Police and Emergency Services David Elliot described Saturday’s freedom protesters as “very selfish boofheads.” He also said anyone who attended the protest should get tested for COVID-19.
“You don’t have to be an epidemiologist to work out if this is a super spreader event, we can forget about lifting restrictions next week,” he said.
Deputy Commissioner Mal Lanyon said after viewing vision from the freedom rally, it was only due to “luck” that police officers in attendance had not been significantly injured.